A short story based on Lemon Tree song from Fools Garden.
“I wrote this one to conquer my fear and in the process, I made peace with myself.”
THE JASMINE TEA
There was a sweet fragrance in the air; the wind was neither too cold and nor too warm, just apt to get sunk in by the skin. Lakshay could feel the sunshine on his face coming from the glass window through which he was watching adolescents playing cricket. The thick mosses covered the ground with contrasting pallets of colour budging out from pigmented petals. It was a kind of afternoon when painters step out of their shell to indulge in their muse or writers sunbathe sitting at a pinewood table unraveling their griefs and glees.
Lakshay was neither of them. He recently quit his job as an architect in Kolkatta and shifted back to his native place-Dehradoon. He never showed interest in playing cricket but was always a dedicated spectator. He could feel the adrenaline rush of the batsman when he hits a full toss, and the fielder is ready, near the boundary, to catch the ball-it’s a six or miss. While following the similar stroke, he looked at the ground and saw Ms. Maria with an intense look on her wrinkled face in the balcony of her house. Maria was one of the most joyful personality Lakshay had ever met. Her old age seemed to be a reward of her middle age crisis. Books, her cat-Castlyn, and Ajay Devgan is what she needed to be cheerful. Her husband passed away three years ago and post that she made several absurd claims like-no woman needs a snoring fossil sleeping next to her after menopause, which gave bouts of existential crisis to many middle aged couples. After finishing her prayers, she placed her cat in a brass basket covered with a royal blue cloth and injected a syringe, full of pale yellow liquid, in her stomach. After injecting the liquid, she placed the sub-conscious body of the cat on the balcony and started praying. Lakshay was shocked, he had seen various forms of human madness, but that one topped his list. Considering her affinity towards Castlyn, that act seemed hare-brained to Lakshay. He rushed towards Maria’s house, which was an exceptional act for him. Lakshay was a kind of person who could camouflage with a background and act as if no one can recognise his existence around them. In social gatherings, he rarely opened his mouth and somehow always managed to be invisible. No one noticed his presence- quiet, lost, and eccentric to strike an ordinary conversation; he usually had friends of different age groups.
After rushing for around two hundred meters, Lakshay opened a massive teakwood door of a colonial house. Capable of being a horror movie set, the house had nude red bricks, open verandas and humongous garden having rusted pillars covered with vines. After carefully nudging through series of pillars, a cherub fountain and few antiques lurched randomly, Lakshay managed to reach the balcony and yelped while catching his breath
“Ms. Maria, I am sorry for a sudden entry, but I happen to see what you just did to Castyln, Is everything fine?”
“Yes! I euthanised her,” she replied in a whetted tone
“Euthanised! was she suffering from some disease?” He asked.
“No! But I don’t want Castlyn to suffer because of Nibiru. I have heard an appeal by a German animal activist to euthanise pets.” She answered.
Devastated by her response, Lakshay wanted to talk but Ms. Maria showed no interest. However, he could sense the pain Ms. Maria would have felt while killing her companion in that huge colonial house. After Castlyn, she was left with a team of five housekeepers who were struggling between her temperament and their job like a clown juggling with the balls and maintaining a smile on his face.
While egressing the colonial, potentially haunted, house of Ms. Maria, Lakshay was captivated by the bouts a pensive wave. He was unable to accept that people were taking Nibiru seriously. He decided to let the thought pass away and opened a small, rusted, faded blue gate which paved out to a huge garden of his parents house. He took a quick right and silently moved towards a white wooden structure, which was a deserted servant quarter used by Lakshay to hide from his mother while smoking. While puffing away the smoke, he got reminded about his love interest-Bushra. Their love story was unusual. A love borne out from professional services. It’s because of cigarettes, Lakshay managed to enter into a relationship which sustained for five months-his longest ever.
Six months ago, while analysing the ill effects of smoking, he customised his body symptoms to suit aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (bleeding into the compartment surrounding the brain) and eventually started getting anxiety attacks because of the fear of dying. After few days, while walking towards his car in a mall’s parking, he got a sudden feeling that he will die the moment he will reach his car. He decided to make a gratuitous phone call to his father and thanked him for his unconditional love. Around 300 meters away from the car, he informed his father that he will die within next three minutes. His father was jolted. The moment Lakshay reached his car and sat in the driver’s seat, he realised the mind game which his anxiety played with him. Embarrassed for not dying, he called his father again. His father took him to the counsellor-Bushra. She was a Tamilian who settled in Doon for her love for mountains and hatred for her father. Somehow, she was unable to customise her dressing style according to the Doon weather. On a chilly day, she would wear a blue Ganji and harem pants flaunting her ‘Freedom’ tattoo, on her left shoulder. The top left curve ‘m’ from the word freedom, was flying away giving an impression of a bird escaping a cage. She was seven years elder to Lakshay and diagnosed him with clinical depression. He was least interested in any relationship but during subsequent sessions, Bushra developed a strong affinity towards him. As a counsellor, she had an access to Lakshay’s mind. There were many Sundays and Saturdays when he cooked up stories to avoid meeting her but never succeeded. No one else could have understood the heavy weight of hopelessness which he was carrying apart from Bushra and that brought them together.
While rubbing off the cigarette bud, leaving a mark of the ash on the white wall, he heard the voice of his mother approaching towards him. He promptly pushed himself out. His furious mother in a crabbed tone scolded him for going out. A Pandit informed her that next forty-eight hours were apropos to do black magic that could attract all the negativity of Nibiru to their house. Subsequently, she ordered everyone to stay inside for next two days. She never believed in superstition but at that moment believing in it was the only option she had. She had seen the kind of hopelessness his son was suffering, and that made her stronger.
Like a river’s swirl, she would flow around the house performing her daily chores. Not for a moment, she would do anything over the top which could make Lakshay sentient about his depression. Deep down her heart she understood that depression has no cause but a clinical disorder like any other, and that was the reason she started using technology. Three months before, from one of her ‘agony-aunt-sort-of-friend,’ she heard that Youtube and Google can impart a better cure for depression than any doctor and subsequently she bought a smartphone. For the next full week, she continuously pestered her son to teach her WhatsApp, Youtube, and Google. After finishing her usual errand, she would make a cup of Jasmine tea for herself and then occupies her treasured nook of the house-a wooden chair next to series of marigold flower positioned in the verandah. Her only interest was to sit there and watch videos of professional counsellors guiding how to come out of depression. She chose not to dwell in a self-pity mode acting like a victim rather she emerged out to be a supporting pillar. Her weak eyes saw the peculiar problem in the finest possible way. She would stretch her boney feet on the ground ,write important tips on depression and read it every morning to remember and implement the same with her son.
After ordering her son to take a bath, she entered the kitchen to make lentils. While fixing the lid of the pressure cooker, she looked through the window and saw the orange sky fading in the melancholic shade. A tear dropped from her wrinkled eye, she wiped her eyes from the edge of her blue printed kurta and started humming an old Hindi song.
THE ROTATING FAN
There was an awkward silence at the dining table, a rare kind of silence when the smokey bubble encompassing an unspoken yet mutual grief of the family suddenly bursts and no one is able to ignore it. Lakshay was looking at his plate which had everything half bitten. His mother was indulged in an altercation with the cook-Ramya. She wanted to take a month long vacation to her native place- a village at the border of Uttar Pradesh, India, and Nepal. Being an opportunist, she blamed ‘Nibiru’ for a long holiday.
Lakshay was attempting to finish all the half bitten pieces from his plate when his father, with an intention to deviate from the topic of Nibiru, started a conversation about growing intolerance in India. Like an ostrich digging his face in the sand after sensing the danger, he wanted to avoid any conversation on that topic.
As a daily ritual, Lakshay after having his dinner went to his parent’s room and greeted them good night while switching off their room’s light. The emotional wave had hit the shores stronger that time, so high that his mother was unable to shield her emotions that night. In a sobbing tone, she called Lakshay while he was getting dissolved in the bleak beam of light entering through the half-opened door of their dark room. He turned back but can hardly see her mother’s face. Her tears were struggling for a free flow from her eyes, but she managed to hold them back. However, few drops of emotions waved off from the side of her right eye-moistening the pillow. Lakshay can smell the motherly fragrance, the kind of fragrance which a farmer gets from a wet sand after a long drought. She made him sit next to her and swamped his left hand into her warm, doughy palms. Lakshay could see a tear freeing itself, from a desperate game of hide and seek, billowing down flat from the edge of her face. He kissed her mother’s forehead but was unable to speak what he wanted to. He struggled to find the right words and ultimately decided to reward that moment with silence. His father was observing the ripple of emotion which engulfed his wife and son with his closed eyes. He chose not to surrender to the situation and pretended to sleep. Lakshay was sure that he was faking.
Usually, Lakshay would get drowsy within twenty minutes of consuming sedative but that night he was wide awake. He tried ‘eight-second-sleep’ exercise, but that hardly helped him, the promise made by the creator of that exercise seemed to be as frivolous as the claims of Hindi dubbed, midnight tele-shop advertisements. While shifting his pillow to the other edge of the bed, he placed his feet on the floor and sat abruptly, as if he was trying to gain stability after an inertia. That was the rare occasion; he could sense the strong emotion hitting him like a splash of cold water wrenching his soul for warmth. He was unable to position his feelings in prevailing circumstances. He believed in Darwin’s theory of evolution-to adapt. He had adapted himself in an abysmal bottomless pit of thoughts. The gravitating thoughts were pulling him down, and yet he was unable to hit the rock-bottom. But that night he was looking for reasons. The day Bushra told him that there are no reasons for depression, he took a sly of relief, but at that moment, he wanted to anchor his depression. It was the night when the monster decided to come out of its cave and proclaim its territory.
Newspapers, television debates and all small talks- in malls, gardens, colleges, and community centres were about ‘Nibiru.’ But that night Nibiru was no more a fictitious character, it became visible, it was right there in the sky, looking like a star but emitting a queer red luminosity. Lakshay sneaked out of his window and saw the strange planet, trying to ensnare others by camouflaging itself with stars, unaware that humans had progressed enough to sense its movement. A planet which was nothing but an infusion of gasses, ten times bigger than earth and takes 27 million years to complete an orbit around the sun. The official statement of NASA declared Nibiru as a potential cause of destroying Earth. On May 8th, exactly at 1645 hours, either Nibru would hit the earth or lose its orbit again, circumventing the doomsday. According to the official statement by ISRO, chances of Nibiru hitting the planet earth was sixty-two percent. That day the humanity on earth sensed a strange feeling, the feeling when a ‘taken-for-granted’ girlfriend dumps an alpha male.
Everyone was hopelessly optimistic-governments, all around the world, were proclaiming emergencies and citizens were looking up to their government. Everyone was fringing on the thirty-eight percent chance. Like other countries, India also proclaimed an emergency. Private vehicles were not allowed on the roads; the last train would have covered half the way to Ramya’s village till then. The Government of India approved only trucks carrying essential commodities to move across the highways.
Lakshay was restive; his concerns were different. From past five months, he spent nights in a hope of a better morning and mornings in a hope of a better night. It was all within him and yet outside his control. It was like riding a horse which was chasing something dark, so dark that he was scared of facing it, he wanted to control it, but the horse was wild, ferocious, and destined for something destructive. He tried to find out the purpose of it, the more he dug, the deeper he fell. It took Bushra around five months to made him understand that depression is not because of some incidence but a clinical disorder and when he was about to understand it, he flipped back to where he started his journey against depression. In the constant battle of rationality and the perseverance, the latter emerged victoriously, and something emerged out like a lizard flickering its tail after a long hibernation.
The sight of Nibiru in the sky proffered him with an instant spurt of existential crises. He wanted to anchor the reason of his depression and destroy it. For the last time, he wanted to be genuinely happy so that his parents are free from the struggle they go through every single day. Their thoughts, actions, and reasons were all propounded over Lakshay’s feeling, and yet he was unable to give them an iota of satisfaction. His depression overpowered his fake smile, every time, in front of his parents. His parents tried endlessly. He wanted to win over those days when his mother skipped her visit to Rajpur Road and stayed at home to ensure that his son is in a comfortable state of mind. Though they never expressed their sacrifices and in fact tried their level best to hide it, but often the pain of depression deepens the sensibility of a person. It acts like a power that can see the naked soul of the other person and can feel it deeply; so profoundly that their struggle gets anchored with the other person’s grief. For the one last time, he wanted to deal with his disease on his own terms- by reasoning it out and then fighting it. So, that he could face his mother and tell her that her son will not hang himself while she is away enjoying with her friends at Rajpur Road. He wanted his parents to have a sense of security, which they never got with him.
For the next two hours, that night, Lakshay lied down flat on his bed and continuously stared the rotating fan at the ceiling; somehow he synchronised the whirls of his thoughts with the morbid rotation of the fan, and when he snapped out of his consuming conviction, he rambled slowly towards the Balcony. He lit a cigarette and looked at the Nibiru; it was pale red and diagonal to the moon. It was a kind of moment when an itinerant finds its destination through the journey itself.
THE YELLOW TRUCK
It was 4 am on May 1, 2016. Lakshay could hear mutts growling around him. A kind of hubbub which pets make to decipher their sinking feeling of consternation. The fear of Nibiru was discernible in the Dehradun’s Inter-state Bus Transmission (ISBT) compound. The marooned ISBT had no drivers, passengers, or vendors. The road in front of the ISBT compound seemed to be inestimable.
No public buses were plying in compliance with a Government order. The opposition criticised the move of the party in power, but the government reserved the road and fuel supply only for heavy vehicles for the purpose of transporting essential commodities. The communication channels were intact until April 30, and afterwards, only All India Radio frequency was available for communication. The ordinance passed by the government was neat and easy to understand. No private vehicle on the road-limited movement by people, only on their foot, and no assemblage of more than three persons in public places. Police officers, military personals, registered truck drivers (without helpers) and government officials (with their drivers and domestic help) were exempted. Nibiru ate the spirit of Indian Constitution and demolished the fourth pillar-the media. All communication channels were put at halt from May 1 till 9th, post that it will be resumed if there would be anything left to be resumed. In coming days, Nibiru was spared from the horror of being analysed and re-analyzed by the connoisseur of yellow journalism. Few media houses gave a stiff competition to the scientific research of NASA and ISRO and had proved that Nibiru was an avatar of Lord Vishnu, which came to destroy all sinners residing in the world. Sinners perceived according to the famous Hindu believes-Beefeaters, heretics , unmarried non-virgins, and untouchables. According to the Hindu gurus, The Brahmins and recent dippers of Ganga were relieved. They have washed away all plunders, fibs, sins, and fraudulence. They can plod away freely from Vishnu’s sin detector scanner.
Halting movement and communication were a well-planned move by the government. It was done to not only reserve the functions of satellites for sensing the movement of Nibiru but also because they had sensed the religious outbreak at the onset of the Nibiru’s in the sky. A Hindu religious leader and a renowned politician, Sri Saccha Hari, claimed that Nibiru was the third eye of Lord Shiva which opened due to mass consumption of beef in India, post that every politician took their life for granted and started building their career by propounding more theories in favour or against that notion. Lakshay felt pity for Nibiru-a planet working so hard to grab some attention but getting defeated by the whooping and screeching sound of a prime time news anchor proclaiming himself as a guardian of the nation’s will by uttering sentences like ‘India wants to know.’ The paradox of Schrodinger’s cat was the irony of that situation. The question in perpetuity was to be or not to be; unfortunately humanity, once again, ignored the calling and quenched into the wits of shallow greed.
There were no traces of humanity around Lakshay. He felt that he had discovered a hidden corner of the world and had trumpeted his territorial rights on it. A pseudo-ruler having no masses to govern. He wanted to reach New Delhi by morning according to the plan. Suspecting the closure of communication channels, Lakshay wrote all relevant information on a piece of paper. Like an ancient nomad, he made a route map from Dehradoon to Gurgaon. According to his calculation, it should take him 72 hours even if he decides to walk to his destination. To avoid foundering, he learnt the address by heart. Unconsciously after every two minutes, he would start humming ‘Sharma & Sharma Advocates, house number 137, Sector 76, lane 4 in front of Omaxe Mall, Gurgaon.’ The address which would be the reason of a shock to his mother after two hours, when she would visit Lakshay’s room (which used to be her first liturgy after waking up) and instead of him, will find a note declaring his sudden trip to Gurgaon.
Lakshay was sure that his mother would not instantaneously recognise Sameer but eventually she would. She always considered Sameer as Lakshay’s best friend; though, twenty years back, Lakshay was 7 and Sameer was 19. Sameer to Lakshay’s parents was like an elder son, he was one of the most notorious neighbours but was always there to succour them. He was a street-smart, the kind of boy every aunt ill-talked about but still ends up seeking favours from him; favours like fixing electronic gadgets, ordering repair parts, and at times, hammering nail on the wall to hang a typical family photo-moustached father, smiling mother and a baby looking at the photographer with a ghastly expression. On a typical Sunday morning, Sameer used to take Lakshay out for a drive, in his red Maruti 800, at Mussoorie Road and days when his dad refused to give him the car, as a punishment for failing in some subject, he would take Lakshay to play video games at his place. Initially, Lakshay shyly refused to go with Sameer but later it was like a custom, every weekend around 11 AM; Sameer would ring the door bell and Lakshay would be ready in his typical three-fourth denim, red T-Shirt, side-parted hair and the linear facial expression. Lakshay had acquired a unique talent of getting unnoticed from his childhood itself-merging into the crowd was his USP, so much so that his teacher always used to make him either a tree or a billow during the cultural programme. His quality to coalesce in the background fetched him many extracurricular certificates which he used to savour by keeping them safe in his mother’s silver trunk.
Sitting at the bench plumbed at ISBT compound’s waiting area, he was analysing his mother’s reaction which was quite heart wrenching for him. Just when Lakshay decided to walk for some distance, a strong beam of light emerged as if someone had opened the hatch to heaven, the kind of light shown in mythological series when heavenly doors open for some low-caste peasants to make wishes. After adjusting his vision, Lakshay figured a humongous truck loaded with big boxes. It had entered the compound of ISBT and was moving towards the bus parking-an area next to the bench on which Lakshay was sitting. It was a yellow truck having thick black eyebrows drawn over its headlight. Lakshay was unable to react to the situation, he felt like a wanderer who ran towards the mirage in the desert, even after knowing that it was an illusion but to his surprise the truck wasn’t. The door of the truck opened to make the way for a heavy man (having a face like rumpled wall and limbs like a deformed strong steel pillars erected to make a foot-over bridge) to jump out. Under the dim street light, the truck driver walked towards Lakshay and without changing his expression sat beside him. It was like those times at dawn when the sun and the moon both appears in the sky and yet fails to recognise each others presence. The awkward, unwarranted silence. Two more minutes of silence and the driver started laughing, the kind of laugh which we associate with the villain of a masala Hindi Movie.
“Bhaiji, This is all Karma” the truck driver paused his teehee to speak while pointing towards the blazing Nibiru in the sky.
Lakshay looked up silently. Both of them were looking at a single point in the sky trying to calm down the squall in their cerebrum, like those novelists who had lost faith in everything and adopted philosophy to answer their resentment towards life. Resentment against an elitist government, intolerable media, jerry-built television programs, cliched books, and callous capitalism. Resentment against trifling existentialism. All they wanted at that moment was to look up in the sky and point towards Nibiru as if they had found the answer to everything. End. The truck driver dusted his trouser and stood up to go. Lakshay felt betrayed. He didn’t expect him to walk away without offering him a lift.
“Bhaiji! You need to open your mouth if you want something, things never happen to those who never ask for it. I am going till Meerut and can squeeze you in my truck. But you have to be cautious.” The truck driver announced, without looking at Lakshay. He was busy rolling Ganja which he put in between his head and the left ear. Lakshay with a ‘toddler running behind the father’ expression followed him.
The truck fumed to start its engine. Lakshay was murmuring the address again. That was his only hope, hope to come back to his parents and show them a face which has no woe. The face after meeting Sameer Sharma.While squeezing behind the two big cartons, he analysed his options again. The options to dilute or hopefully destroy his depression irrespective of the fact what it takes to destroy it. But he wasn’t sure. He just wanted to meet Sameer and then act according to his instincts and to honour his instincts Lakshay was carrying his father’s revolver in the inside pocket of his blue rucksack.
THE YELLOW FARM, THE RED HOUSE, AND THE WHITE COW
Lakshay and the truck driver managed to deceive two major checkpoints and had reached Muzzafarnagar in about forty minutes. Though they were sitting in two noncommunicable spaces-Lakshay at the open space of the truck squeezed in huge cartons, Truck driver-on the driver seat, doped to increase his concentration on the road. They shared a sense of pride while crossing the check post. The kind of pride when a student deceives the teacher and bunks class in between the lecture. The pride of achieving small immaterial things.
The truck driver halted the truck next to a roadside Dhaba near Muzzafarnagar. The Dhaba was lit like a house celebrating the arrival of Lord Ram during Diwali. It had a scarecrow kind of structure near its entrance. The structure had a free-flowing nylon hand which gave an indication to the drivers, on the road, towards the dhaba’s entrance. It was a new kind of invention and had taken away job of many poor. Earlier people were employed to stand at the road and catch the attention of drivers by indicating toward dhaba’s entrance. The influx of the scare-crow like structure destroyed manual marketing. It was like the Facebook of local Dhaba. Every Dhaba owner started using it to grab the attention of drivers. It was a hit.
Few more squeezing session across the cartons and a jump over a three feet enclosure to the lorry, Lakshay’s crocs was in touch with the earth, the earth whose perpetual value was in question. The truck driver walked, and Lakshay followed. The truck driver sat on the stool and Lakshay followed. There was an unstated contract between Lakshay and the truck driver. The memorandum of understanding.
“What’s you name?” asked Lakshay while enclosing a piece of onion in buttered naan.
“Pushkar Singh” The truck driver answered while chewing his food.
It was difficult for Lakshay to adjust his face with his name. He looked more like ‘Ram Prashad’ or ‘Hari Singh’ to him. Laid down by his name Lakshay decided to ask another question.
“Why are you risking everything and helping me? What if the next police post catches both of us. Don’t you want to see your family before four-forty five pm on eight may? ”
Lakshay’s whole face bulged into a question mark. He made an expression like an innocent child asking fundamental questions about his father.
Pushkar chose to ignore and howled at the waiter to get water. Lakshay could hear the owner of the Dhaba announcing the inflated price of the food- a bottle of water for 100 rupees, a plate of dal for 500 rupees and a piece of naan for 200. The truck driver (or hard-to-be-referred as Pushkar) conveniently rushed to wash his hand towards the tap. The waiter gave the bill to Lakshay. As a smart planner, Lakshay was carrying enough money to pay 50 more bills like that.
“Bhaiji, we had crossed major check- post, you can sit next to me.”- Pushkar said, again without looking at Lakshay and while rolling another joint.
Lakshay was now sitting towards the moving direction of the truck-Next to the Truck driver alias Pushkar Singh. Through the edge of the front glass (bearing stickers of Lord Shiva-sitting on the rock, blue in colour, eyes closed and snake around his neck) he could see Moon and Nibiru in one frame. Diagonal to each other, one red other silver, one aborigine another alien, one peaceful other frenzied. Different yet close enough to fit in one frame. At a regular interval, the frame was aesthetically escalated by the fumes of the smoked Marijuana exhaled by Pushkar.
“Bhaiji, I can’t let my family go away from me. After dropping these cartons at the Meerut Government hospital, I am going to my home which is few meters away from the government hospital.” Said Pushkar in sedated motion; slow for Lakshay and peaceful for Pushkar.
And then Pushkar went on like a stuck radio cassette, like those Urdu songs which have exemplary profundity and a never-ending length, which run for ages and when it ends, you feel as if you have crossed generations through that song. Pushkar was in a mood to tell his story to Lakshay. In a stranger, he found a crony-a safe-keeper. He started with a tree-Pepal and a village-Peepli. He described his yellow farm, his red house in that yellow farm, and his white cows outside that red house in that yellow farm.
He got married at the age of 18 to a 16 years old virgin. A quintessential 18-16 combo got a baby girl bonanza within a year. The farm, cows, wife, and a thumb sucking baby- he got everything he wanted in his life. The small things and the big satisfaction-Food from the farm, water from the tubewell, money from the crop retailer and milk from the cow. The time passed, and he made decent earnings for his life. Like a wise man among many fools, he decided to have only one child. People barbed him and saw his wife with an apprehensive eye. They doubted their sexual compatibility and at a point of time even the legitimacy of their only child. It was unbelievable for the people of Peepli that a fellow villager was satisfied without a boy child. When their daughter was eight years old, they started counting their savings to send her to a boarding school away from Peepli. As a plan, he reserved a portion of his land for his daughter. Pushkar’s blessed, little, sanctified, lustrous world was clouded by a tannery-Shri Lakshmi Private Limited Tannery. People of Peepli were celebrating, tannery for them was development. Development for many, nightmare for Pushkar. The Tannery was planned to be opened adjacent to his farm that meant his fresh groundwater would be drenched by some humongous pump of the tannery and would be returned to his farm-not just as water but as a foggy chemical mix. Chemicals which coloured the clothes of toddlers were about to fade dreams of Pushkar’s daughter. As a retaliation, Pushkar met panchayat, the project proponent, and fellow villagers but everyone was smitten by the prospective of the Tannery. They were all hypnotised by the definition of development injected in their mind by some politicians. Development meant monstrous machines, tactile roads, boxed flats, crawling offices, and colossal buildings. Politicians in their speeches mesmerised villagers with a sugar coated poison-the poison of wrinkled river beds, parched hand-pumps, glabrous forests, and famished farms. Brick by brick construction of the tannery sucked water from Pushkar’s farm and returned black foamy aqueous making his land futile. The government was ignorant, not just ignorant but consciously ignorant. Six months before the ribbon cutting ceremony of Shri Lakshmi Private Limited Tanneries, Pushkar met Ms. Anandita- a vegan, fabindia wearer, and a wine lover activist. She got a million dollar funding from Asian Development Bank to make documentaries on the plight of Indian farmers. She told, persuaded, tutored Pushkar to go at the Public Participation meeting of the tannery and gospel the candour. She showed him reports in regional language which claimed that the tannery in papers was not supposed to souse ground-water from his farm and also not gift-return the water with chemicals. The trained Pushkar spoke all of it in the public participation meeting. The matter reached the green court, which ultimately halted operation of the tannery.
Panchayat, villagers, and proponents-all grouped up against Pushkar. It was 6 am, The orange sun was opening to a yellow flame, it was July of 2011. The undivided village gathered in the yellow farm, outside the red house, near the white cow and broke the green door. Five men yanked Pushkar’s wife and daughter, other three pushed and roped Pushkar. Both his wife and daughter were undressed, stripped, and humiliated. With each piece of clothes dragged from their body the crowd screeched , and when there were no more clothes to unclad they let the mother-daughter run, run around the boundary fenced by the arms of spineless men. Pushkar was not even allowed to close his eyes. No one touched mother-daughter, but everyone sniggered, smoked and danced when they were running to the in circles. After an hour of sheer vengeance, the crowd disappeared-entertained with schadenfreude. Two hours after that, a family failed suicide attempt and ran away leaving behind the yellow farm, the red house, and the white cow.
Pushkar was hired as a driver by Meerut government hospital, and the traumatised mother-daughter duo stayed in the city. They recently installed a set top box for their television which was kept on a brass table of their one room house. One day while shuffling news channel, Pushkar saw Ms. Anandita, debating on a news channel spurring about her age-old win over Shri Lakshmi Private Limited and claiming the honour of saving the livelihood of a farmer’s family. Pushkar smirked. The kind of grin which comes when your small things get destroyed with their big things.
It took 50 kilometres, eight speed-breakers, and thirty minutes for Pushkar to narrate his story; Lakshay was first hearing and then listening. He was engrossed. The fear of Nibiru was pushed to his subconscious mind. It took him a while to travel from the yellow farm to the yellow truck. He was consumed. Consumed by the tragedy. The tragedy which made his grief look timid and his journey an unwarranted, hasty, rebellious act. He wanted to go back to his house. He wanted to smell the motherly fragrance, see her bony feet and feel her wet eyes. Road ahead him would take him to his destination, what he labelled as his cause of depression and road behind him was his comfort zone-his house. Finding answer of his grief through Pushkar’s tragedy, Lakshay asked in a dour voice.
“Do you want to go back to your village?”
The fading darkness of the sky was diluting the contrast of Moon and Nibiru. Sun was eating the glory of fear and beauty by spreading it rays. Pushkar looked outside his truck window. The reflection of sun rays was dancing in the rear view mirror. After five minutes of silence, he reached his destination. After bunging the brake on a truck which was carrying two naked souls-one unrested other settled. He looked at Lakshay and answered.
“I don’t want to define my present through my past. Vengeance is alluring, but not at the cost of gratitude.”
Lakshay sat stoned. Pushkar was also stoned-doped and stoned, but driving.
THE MEMORY DELETION PILL
It was 8 am on May 2, 2016. Lakshay was on the road. Pushkar dropped Lakshay to a Municipal Corporation park located in the centre of Meerut. There were bald patches of grasses covered with plastic bags and cigarette buds. It was the morning of a Monday. Typically a time when people mob to reach their workplace. Many half souls, grinding their dreams every day to support their family. But that Monday was special, that morning Sun was not alone in the sky, like a powerful debutant Nibiru made a daylight entry. The entrance was grand- like of those star-kids in their family production films. The blue sky was yolked by the Sun and complimented by a strange gaseous arc which got consumed as soon as it came near to the Sun. Nibiru was closer to people of the Earth, so close that it failed to fit in a frame.
Lakshay sat on a rustic green bench in the garden. He sat silently and looked up-the sun, the arc, the blue sky. A sudden mob of vehemence lynched his gumption. All he wanted at that moment was to give a purpose to his grief. The grief which tugged him far from the motherly fragrance which was the reason of his subsistence; the misery which inched him away from his father who lived in a constant fear of losing his son. The grief which was swallowing three lives, every second of every hour of every day. He closed his eyes with a hope to open it and find his mother sitting next to him-sipping her Jasmine tea, struggling with youtube videos trying harder every moment to take him away from an abysmal pit of hopelessness. He opened his eyes to release a drop of a tear. One drop for Lakshay and many for his mother. He snivelled like a maniac. He felt cheated; his grief was supposed to be the main lead, but Pushkar’s story stole the show. His journey seemed to be an amateurish act of victimhood. Stuck in the multitudes of grief, gratitude, and vengeance he found himself lost in two worlds-one, where his mother was on the streets looking for his son and the other hundred kilometres away in Gurgaon where he can destroy the perceived reason for his depression. He chose both. He wanted to reach Gurgaon as soon as possible and then go back to Dehradun and be a support to his parents.
There was a whimsical silence in the air, the kind of silence which a magician adopts to create a suspense during its act. The pause. The pause between the act and its result. Lakshay lifted his blue rucksack, wore it on his shoulder, dusted his denim and started tramping towards the main road. He began moving towards the National Highway with the hope of finding lift till Gurgaon. It was 9 am, sun and clouds were playing hide and seek to ignore the guest of the sky-Nibiru. Street dogs were restless; they were barking without any reason; unlike Lakshay they were in their respective territory but like Lakshay they were tormented. After walking for another four kilometres, he managed to find a shop and bought a bottle of water for 100 rupees. While sipping water from an uneven bottle, he saw a white Indica with a blue beacon light approaching him, by the time he gulped two more sips, the car stood next to him, it was like calling Uber through telepathy. The driver with a receding hairline peeped out of the car window like a giraffe looking out of the zoo boundary trying to allure its watcher with a hope of setting itself free.
“Where do you want to go?” he asked with a straight face-the kind of face which diplomats make while discussing a treaty on Human Rights-the impassive face, the face giving an absolute validity to the act.
Lakshay uttered the address which he was murmuring from last ten hours in a typical tone-a tone similar to the sound which a huddle of student makes while wishing a teacher.
“Fifteen thousand rupees-policemen commission included; no checkpoint will stop us.”- The taxi driver demanded keeping his diplomat like expression intact.
It took Lakshay three-seconds to open the car door and sit in the back seat. His promptitude was not for meeting Sameer but to finish his journey and go back to his territory- a territory enclosing stories of a mothers’ struggle, a fathers’ dream, and a lovers’ hope. His home. If not in the car, he would have been with Bushra in her office, practicing focus exercise with Jazz from ‘Proggy and Bess’ playing in the background. Lakshay never took his relationship with Bushra seriously, for him it was a lackadaisical affair which at times resulted into twist and turns in Bushra’s bedroom. He tried to stick to the basics and integrated his depression with Sameer. Bushra warned him. She told him that if he kept on integrated his depression with a particular person or incidence, he will never get out of it. According to her, reasoning out depression is the most common yet lethal fallacy.
Unlike Pushkar, that driver was chattery . The moment Lakshay sat in his car, he started talking about his love for typical action movies-sexiest punch dialogues, objectifying item song, and convincingly cheap humour. Lakshay was trying to adjust to the change, from an intense story to a wrenching lone time and now a passionate Bollywood admirer-Lakshay’s road journey was quite strenuous. He was unable to digest the zeal of the new driver and trying to adjust the way retina adjusts when one enters into a leaden room from a flashing, sunny outside. The driver was grousing about a rope-on-bike stunt, her canvassing heroine, and sequel of a cop-chase movie.
Lakshay was selectively hearing his conversation with a curious demeanour, like a child stretching out his eyes while watching a wild animal for the first time. And while talking about the sequel of a movie, his single toned conversation took a twist in its pitch. He paused and in a gravitating tone asked Lakshay if he had heard about the medicine which is capable of deleting bad memories from a person’s mind.
Last summer while dropping a passenger at IGI airport he overheard her conversation about an experiment conducted by American scientist on the victims of 9/11. They were medicated with a protein inhibitor which was capable of suppressing traumatic experiences. The experiment was successful, victims of 9/11 forgot their traumatic experiences after consuming that pill-‘Memory Deletion Pill.’ Since then the Taxi Driver was asking everyone about that medicine.
Lakshay was flabbergasted by the shift in his conversation-from a Bollywood masala movie to a scientific documentary.
“It is banned,” Lakshay answered in a huffy tone.
“But it must be available in black somewhere, do you know anything about it?” asked the driver who looked like a Rahul or a Mohit. He was young, athletic with patches of hair abruptly spread over his face.
“Do you want to start a business?” asked Lakshay in a scoffing tone while looking outside the window-A deserted toll tax.
“Bhaisaab, I want to die peacefully, I want to have it before Nibiru hits the earth.”
More than a threat, Nibiru was perceived as an excuse to kill procrastination. It was like a boss who suddenly gave a deadline to every employee- do the work or get fired; heal your soul or die unrested. Lakshay was unable to gather right kind of emotions to react; he was not ready to listen to another saga of victimisation. As if, Everyone around him was competing for a tragedy.
“What’s your pain?” Lakshay asked in a lousy tone while looking outside his window.
“I murdered my brother, two years ago.” The driver answered in a crisp tone; nothing before the sentence and nothing after that apart from a heavy breath.
Only one pill and he would be free from the guilt. The guilt of taking his brother’s life. Lakshay was transfixed by the postulation. But will he remain the same person? The possibility of that medicine impounded Lakshay. What if the driver gets jailed after taking that medication-he will be clueless about his crime. Reformative punishment will be available in a form of tiny tablet working like a machine removing mens rea from the criminals mind. Then what is the punishment for? To whom should it be given?
“I am not the same person. I killed him, and that is something I can’t redo, but what I was two years ago I am not the same today and If science can allow me to forget my past then I want to do it. My consciousness kills me every moment. ”
That single conversation with the driver radically changed Lakshay’s perception. The quantum physics applied to the reformative theory of law. To be or not to be. In some simple words, a driver taught Lakshay the meaning of existentialism. Just one medicine and you are free with your past-deleted from you. He was wondering what if Sameer is changed and his guilt of transgression is already killing him-in that case he was on a journey to destroy his grief which was non-existent at that point of time.
For rest of the journey both of them kept quiet. There was silence-the silence of realisation for one and silence of guilt for another.
THE RED HOTWHEEL CAR
To avoid one more police check post, the driver dropped Lakshay thirteen kilometres away from Sameer’s house. He started walking on the footpath; it was 2:38 PM on Lakshay’s watch; the sunshine had hidden the arc of the alien. The clouds and sun were still playing hide and seek to relieve Lakshay from the heat. The road was empty; red lights were not in operation. A road which used to be the pride of the city had hardly any takers that day- like the fading career of a movie star after consecutive flops.
Lakshay was sweating, more because of realisations and less because of the sun, which was consuming the fear of the world. More than facing Sameer, his fear was to lose his life without seeing his parents again. He wanted to sit next to his parents and see them smiling instead of struggling with tears. The blue rucksack was looking like a hump on him. He was walking rhythmically; it was a kind of walk which a person takes to decide it’s life in solace. The trail which makes or breaks the person.
With every step ahead, he was reverted with the glimpses of his childhood. The time he had spent with Sameer twenty years back was standing like a cage in front of him-a cage of thoughts enclosing him, suffocating him and moving along him. He had everything in his mind afresh-Sameer’s house next to his, the Doon Valley untouched from the capitalists who enterprise the natural resources to put a price tag on them, the particular day when it all started-a party, a game, and an incident which convoluted an innocent soul and snatched his childhood. Winters of 1996, it was Sameer’s parents wedding anniversary. Lakshay was at the party wearing denim shorts and a green T-shirt impersonating Poppy and his girlfriend Olive on it. His mother neatly oiled his hair with a side parting making his head look like a boundary between India and Pakistan-the smaller portion in left and the bigger in right.
Sameer placed seven white chairs, in opposite directions alternatively, in a line and then he announced the game of ‘Musical Chair.’ Excited Lakshay jumped towards the neatly aligned chair and raised his tiny hand coming out of the Popeye’s spinach box. There were eight players including seven years old Lakshay and 19 years old Sameer. As soon as the music started everyone begun walking briskly. Lakshay was excited ; he was eying the first prize which was a red hotwheel car. As soon as the music stopped, both of them saved their position for next round. In the next round, Lakshay was walking behind Sameer, he was aiming for the fourth chair and was sure that he will reach there by the time music would stop. Two steps more and the music got paused. All six candidates hustled like a set of birds flying after sensing a potential danger. The chair eyed by Lakshay was occupied by Sameer, Lakshay stood and saw him with a long face and wet eyes. Sameer hefted him up and made him sit on his lap. While everyone was engaged for the next round, he lifted the body of Lakshay and jolted his bottom in between his legs thrice. Lakshay felt , a kind of freakish feeling which was unexplainable for a seven-year-old child. Sameer was out in the next round. Lakshay was no more comfortable with his new neighbour; he accurately didn’t knew why but he sensed some risk, a kind of danger which a lower caste peasant feels from an intimidating Zamindar. In his green t-shirt, blue shorts, and side parted head, Lakshay was looking like the boy who typically features in the alphabet charts to teach ‘b for boy’ to toddlers. In the midst of the cake cutting ceremony, he was looking for his mother who wore green sari with golden border. The moment he figured out the brown sofa on which his mother was sitting, Sameer pulled his hand and started talking to him.
“Where are you going, do you want the red hot-wheel car?” Sameer asked in a rhyming tone.
Lakshay was unable to make a decision-the armour of his mother or the rapacity of the toy. Like any other kid, he chose the latter. Sameer asked him to follow him. Like a minion in the world of humans, Lakshay moved through the legs of mortals around him following his messiah. After counting and climbing sixteen stairs, he reached to a door having ‘My Rules My life’ written in red with a yellow background. Sameer opened the door and asked Lakshay to step inside the room. With a desire to show-off his new red hotwheel car to his school friends-Prashant and Shashank, he moved inside the room. He had a feeling of accomplishment. He was not entertained by Prashant and Rohit during the school lunch hours as he wasn’t a proud owner of a hot-wheel car. The toy car was a password for entering into the friendship with the coolest classmates. It was like an insurance policy-protection against bullying, teasing, and alienation. His wretchedness to get the password was at a paramount height, so much so that he forgot the green saree with the golden border. Lakshay entered the room, Sameer pushed himself inside from the edge of the door and latched it. There was a sweet fragrance in the room, a kind of fragrance which resembled the taste of Roohofzaa.
“Sameer Bhaiya! Where is the car. I want the red one.” Said Lakshya, while looking up towards Sameer face with tootled eyes.
“To get the car, you have to play a game with me” replied Sameer with a smiling face resembling an amateur clown trying hard to fake a smile.
Lakshay agreed promptly. Sameer pulled out a handkerchief from his cupboard having a distinguished fragrance of Lomani. He instructed Lakshay to sit on the floor facing toward the bed on his knees. Lakshay followed the diktat . He crouched down on a brown carpet facing toward the bed covered with blue flowered bed sheet complimented by white curtains in the background. Sameer sat in front of Lakshay and three-folded the handkerchief. He arched toward Lakshay and tied the handkerchief around his eyes. A journey began from blue bed-sheet was meant to conclude at red-hot wheel car, but there was a dark black tunnel on it’s way.
“On the count of three open your mouth” Sameer whispered in Lakshay’s right ear.
Blindfolded Lakshay sitting on his knees, in front of the bed, could hear a sound of something getting unzipped-an infinitesimal sound which bees make while passing by an ear. By the time Sameer finished counting till three, he had put his erection in Lakshay’s mouth. Lakshay felt a pervasive smell and started croaking as soon as he sensed it in his mouth. He lifted his tiny hand and removed the erection from his hand. He felt as if he had touched a squidgy rodent and pushed it away.
“It is nothing Lakshay; you should keep all this to yourself. It is a part of growing up; if you tell your mother about whatever I am going to do, she would hate you for this. No lunch boxes, no goodnight hugs, and no weekend pizzas.” Sameer blabbered all this while zipping his muscularity in his black cargo.
He lifted Lakshay from his armpit like a hanger carrying a t-shirt and made him sit next to him. He gave him the red colour hot wheels car- Lakshay’s ticket to the elite gang of his class, and asked him to sit in between his legs while he was undressing himself. His big hands were all over Lakshay’s body, and then there were sweat, shouts, and scars. Sameer tried to exploit a mass of three feet and twenty-eight kilos to quench his ambitious fantasies. After twenty minutes, Lakshay could barely walk; Sameer told him to blame uneven staircase if his mother inquires about the scar on the left edge of the neck. For next three days Lakshay had high fever, he puked every three hours and made no demands. The fever was not because of a virus but a result of the mental angst. He was suddenly petrified of young men around him and would hide himself from their radar. He was abruptly okay with brinjal, which he used to hate and never demanded for weekend pizza. He kept the red hotwheel car on the side table of his mini bed and never touched it again. The losing to be friends with Prashant and Shashank puffed away like a smoke coming out of the chimney and getting dissolved to form a smog-a dangerous hybrid which looks like a cloud and act like a poison.
Few days later, Lakshay’s parents went for a wedding party and asked Sameer to stay at their home with Lakshay. This time, Sameer was considerate he made Lakshay lie down upside down on his lap and played with his bottom like a drum. After that night, Lakshay started hating wedding parties. It was the cause of exasperated dilemma in his life. He was scared. The next time it was in a car when, with a hope of making his son playful again, Lakshay’s mother sent him with Sameer in his Red Maruti-800 to Mussoorie Road. It began in the car and extended to the valley-on the grass, behind the tree. After coming back from that Sunday afternoon outing, Lakshay told her mother stories about the ice-cream he ate, the garden he visited and the song he heard in Sameer’s car-all tutored by Sameer while dropping Lakshay back to his house.
After few weeks, Lakshay was used to it. He knew the process. The pain mental suffering-sinking feeling-unanswered questions-stories and then a starting point again. As if the tribulation owned him completely. He distanced himself from everything, hardly discussed his home-work to his mother, demanded toys from his father and was okay with everything cooked in the kitchen.
After a year, Sameer’s parent shifted to Gurgaon. It was May’ 1997; Lakshay was standing on the balcony since morning, seeing Sameer’s households getting transferred in a brown truck. By each carton getting placed in the truck, the smile of Lakshay broadened. No more fear of Red Maruti-800, no more lying to his mother, no fake ice-creams, and the biggest relief-no more sickening feeling.
At the age of 9, Lakshay forgot Sameer consciously, but his harassment stayed with him, it swept inside him like the water soaked by a sponge. A Childhood was killed and a melancholic adolescent started paving the way to a perpetually subdued man.
THE NINE FEET WIDE ROAD
Sameer was standing in front of a house having mahogany exteriors with a board hanging on the top of its garage portion. The flex on the board had ‘Sameer & Sameer Advocates’ written over it. Lakshay was standing on the other side of the road. In the desolated lane there was a peculiar hush which acknowledged the presence of Nibiru.
Lakshay carrying his blue rucksack like a hump was unsure how to conclude his journey, few steps more and he could claim his gaiety. The reason for his woe was just across the road. A road across was his ticket to a happier life, a genuine smile which was capable of melting all pains of his parents. It was 4 pm, exactly twenty-four hours before he was with his mother trying to help her to change the curtains of their drawing room. He was taller than his mother which was a matter of conceit for her. All Lakshay could think at that moment was what Pushkar said while leavingVengeance is alluring but not at the cost of Gratitude.
He started his journey to find peace of his mind. He was sure that Bushra was wrong and his depression had a reason-Sameer. When he was close to claiming his perceived happiness, he was unsure what is grander-his perceived reason of grief or the moments he never relished with his parents, as he was busy anchoring his depression. He realised that his genuine smile didn’t require anything apart from the realisation which sunk in him through two acquaintances. He was not even sure whether Sameer is the same person now, whether by destroying him he would be destroying the cause of his depression. The distance between him and his destination was a nine-feet wide road and the realisation that he is responsible for his own happiness. But it might cost him everything; he might not see his parents again and they might die without knowing that their son is fine now, their struggle against his depression had ended.
Lakshay did not feel what he was supposed to feel for the moment. More than destroying Sameer, he was keener to reach back to his home and spend the usual time with his parents, have sessions with Bushra and watch adolescents playing cricket. His pursuit of contentment took everything from me, yet he felt alive; on the road, bruised and healed simultaneously. Bruised by the fear of not seeing his parents, his world, again and healed by the realisation that the grief of Sameer was not as big as his life. He looked at the sky, towards the gaseous arc of Nibiru, which was like his depression. If one wants to find a reason for it, there can be many-Mass consumption of beef by fanatics, displaced orbit by scientists, third eye of Lord Shiva by religious gurus and an opportunity to practice gratitude by rationalists. Lakshay made peace with the moment, he smiled genuinely and took a step towards Sameer’s house.